Given it’s all the one country, it’s hard to believe that Québec is part of Canada at all. There are times, while walking through the quiet, quaint streets of Québec City, overhearing snippets of French conversation as you go, that you’ll forget that an entire ocean separates you from Europe.
I visited Québec in early December, spending time in both Québec City and Montréal. It proved to be a combination of the best and worst time of year to be in this part of the world.
Following an ordeal involving delayed planes and a missed connecting flight, I eventually arrived in Québec City a full day later than planned. I had just spent five days in a sunny New York City, so I wasn’t quite prepared when my plane landed in -3 degree temperatures to find the city covered in snow. I also wasn’t prepared for how hilly the streets are. As a result, I can now tell people that the very first thing I did when I got to Québec City was fall spectacularly on my arse. Thus, the next stop on my trip was to a shoe shop where I was forced to fork out $160CAD for snow boots, just to stay vertical.
However, the beauty of Québec City is that with the correct footwear and twelve layers of your warmest clothes, it is easy to walk to all the major tourist attractions, the majority of which are located in Old Québec. Le Chateau Frontenac forms the core of this part of the city. The iconic hotel is flanked by the Terrasse Dufferin, overlooking the St Lawrence River. A stroll along the boardwalk will take your breath away. (This is only in part because it’s so damn cold.)
From there, the Rue du Petit Champlain is only a stone throw away, which in the snow at 6pm on a Monday evening, looked like it came off a post card. The street is lined with Christmas trees, fairy lights, boutiques, cafes and restaurants.
To take in the local art, continue past the beautiful Notre-Dame-des-Victoires and down to Rue Saint-Paul for more galleries than you can ever hope to explore in one day.
If you’re lucky enough to be in the city on a weekend in December, the German Christmas market is said to be spectacular. However, if, like me, you are there Monday to Wednesday, you’ll only be able to look on in disappointment at the closed up huts in the centre of the city. There’s also a beautiful skating rink at Place D’Youville throughout the winter season if you’d prefer to fall flat on your bum in a more controlled environment.
Following two nights in Québec City, I took the three-hour train journey down to Montréal. Montréal is the city that usually comes to people’s minds when they hear about Québec and yet I would argue that it’s somewhat overrated. Perhaps it can be put down to the fact that I visited Québec City first, but I wasn’t so taken with Montréal when I got there. Although it’s much larger and widely spread out, I still chose to walk everywhere, in part because the buses are really expensive but also because I was embarrassed that I had zero French to ask if I was on the correct route.
Like in Québec City, many of Montreal’s historical buildings and attractions are in the old part of the city, which grew up around the old port. The first stop I made here was to visit Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. While it’s undoubtedly the city’s most beautiful building, the exterior does not hold a candle to the stunning interior. There’s a reason that Celine Dion (the most famous French-Canadian) chose to get married here. However, unlike Notre-Dame in Paris which is entirely free, you have to pay $5 for the privilege of going inside.
Montréal also has its own, equally-beautiful Rue Saint-Paul. There you’ll find the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours (Sacred Heart) chapel and Bonsecours Market, which now houses stylish (and expensive) boutiques and craft shops.
Montréal received its name from the small mountain that overlooks the city, Mont Royal. At just a 233m elevation, it’s a gentle hike for birds-eye views of the city. The scenic route will take you around the mountain through Mont Royal Park before eventually delivering you to Chalet du mont Royal, for your Instagram-perfect view.
As I previously mentioned, what surprised me most about my short stay in Québec was just how French the province was. Although I had heard plenty about French-Canada before, I expected people to be bilingual, and generally similar to the rest of their North-American counterparts. However, this was not the case at all. While most locals I met in shops and restaurants did speak English, it was akin to meeting locals in France whose accent was thick and English was at a basic level. You can also expect to get stared at by the locals in a similar-way that you would in Paris, particularly in a small city like Québec when you’re visiting out of season.
Although I loved seeing the cities covered in snow, the weather was debilitating. During the day, temperatures were as low as -5 degrees and often fell to -8 by nightfall, leaving it difficult to venture out (or stay out) anywhere past sun down. Perhaps if you’re accustomed to cold and snowy winters, you’ll find Quebec in December easier to manage, but if you’re a cold creature like me, you might be better off saving any such trip for the warm summer months.